BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — Women in Film is turning 40, and the organization celebrated its milestone birthday at its annual Crystal + Lucy Awards. But while the night was one of celebration, honorees and guests said women's move toward equality in the entertainment industry remains slow, even after four decades of organized efforts.

"There certainly is a wider diversity of roles available to women, (and) careers don't instantly end at 29 anymore," said 49-year-old Laura Linney, who received the Crystal Award for excellence in film. "But the progress in every other area has been so slow, very slow. So there's a long way to go, and not just in this industry, but in every industry."

Host Jenna Elfman agreed.

"The roles are getting better and more interesting and more abundant, but it's slow going still," she said. "And not just (for) actresses, but cinematographers, sound editors, everything."

She said she hopes for the day when billboards for comedies feature just as many women as men.

Debra Messing said it would help to have more women writing, as well.

"I would love to see more female writers in the rosters of all the nominations as the big nominations come out," she said. "We're still underrepresented, and for some reason, there's a belief that women can't open a film, and 'Bridesmaids' proved that that's not the case. I think it's time for everything to equalize and to realize there's enough diversity of taste out there that there's a place for everyone to be."

"At Women in Film, we believe 40 is the new kick ass," Elfman said as she opened the Wednesday night program at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Sophia Coppola, who received the director's award from Nancy Meyers, said she's seen women's progress since making her first feature in 1999.

"There's more women directors and more women executives than when I started, so you feel like that voice is being represented more and more," she said. "It's just great to have as much diversity in what we see and see different people's experiences, so I hope to see more female ones too."

George Lucas was lauded for his humanitarian work, and for putting women in positions of power on and off screen. He accepted his award from the woman he named to the helm of Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy.

"George Lucas gave us a fast-talking, blaster-toting spitfire by the name of Princess Leia," Kennedy said.

Carrie Fisher, the actress who portrayed Leia, said via video that the character was one of the first women and girls could truly look up to.

Lucas said he "turned my whole life over" to Kennedy after being schooled throughout his life in the power of women, first by his sisters, then by his daughters.

"In the end, you will win," he said.

Wednesday's program, which serves as a fundraiser for Women in Film, also included honors for actress Hailee Steinfeld, cinematographer Rachel Morrison and the Lucy Award for excellence in television for the women of "Mad Men."

Women in Film president Cathy Schulman said it's critical to achieve fair gender representation in Hollywood because "we are the keepers of the planet's storytelling, and it's up to all of us to spin accurate pictures of our lives, our histories and our imaginations."

"Women need to sit at decision-making tables and hold gatekeeping positions on films and television," she said, "because only gender equality can bring about nonbiased decision making, and thus nonbiased storytelling."

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AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen is on Twitter: www.twitter.com/APSandy.

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AP Entertainment Writer Marcela Isaza contributed to this report.

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Online:

www.wif.org

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